A bipartisan group of senators, joined by a famous advocate, called for public funding for medical research on embryonic stem cells (search) on Wednesday despite veto threats from President Bush.
"We're here because we believe that when science offers the door to hope we shouldn't allow rigid ideology to slam it shut," said Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.
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"Patients are waiting all across America. It can take 10 to 20 years or longer for this research to bear fruit and we need to start now," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
The senators in attendance support a bill already passed by the House that would allow embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization (search) attempts to be used for federally funded stem cell research. Scientists believe stem cells, which morph and develop into different kinds of tissues, may one day help those with Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and juvenile diabetes. Actor Michael J. Fox (search), who has Parkinson's, appeared with the senators to push for passage.
"Most embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization are destroyed and thrown away. To my thinking it is the highest form of ethics for them to be donated for medical research," Fox said.
But many Americans, including Bush, say they believe passionately that life begins at conception, and they oppose destroying embryos for medical research. To demonstrate his resolve on the issue, in May Bush held a public event at the White House with families who are raising children who were once leftover fertility clinic embryos.
"Rather than discard these embryos created during in-vitro fertilization, or turn them over for research that destroys them, these families have chosen a life-affirming alternative. Twenty-one children here today found a chance for life with loving parents ... We should not use public money to support the further destruction of human life," Bush said.
The president has promised to veto the House bill, and it seems unlikely that the two chambers could override a veto. But the debate puts Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician, in an unusual position.
In the past, Frist has been supportive of stem cell research. But as someone who may run for president in 2008, he needs the support of conservative pro-life Christians. He said Wednesday that he has problems with the House bill, but will bring it up next week in the Senate.